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E_L_B/Erskine_Lê_Benita: Dream Flight

An acronym for the eclectic and remarkably interactive trio of American drummer Peter Erskine, French guitarist Nguyên Lê and French bassist Michel Benita, E_L_B is a kind of Franco-American counterpart to Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and John Abercrombie’s adventurous and genre-hopping Gateway. As a followup to their self-titled 2004 outing, the three kindred spirits once again join forces, this time with a special guest, the superb French saxophonist Stephane Guillaume. Paris native Lê is widely acknowledged, on the strength of 10 impressive outings as a leader, as one of the most creative electric guitarists and improvisers in the post-Frisell era. His fellow Parisian Benita has been an in-demand upright bassist on the European scene for the past 20 years. And Erskine’s track record is well known. All three contribute equally as composers and virtuosic players here.

A wide stylistic range is covered here, from Benita’s spacious, ECM-ish title track to his edgy, angular swinger “Rotha & Priska,” which has Guillaume engaging in some heated call-and-response on tenor sax with Lê’s distortion-laced fusillades. Erskine’s hymnlike “Song for Jaco,” his heartfelt homage to a fallen comrade, is highlighted by some beautifully melodic playing from both Guillaume and Benita. Lê’s “Jive Five” cleverly combines aspects of Stevie Wonder’s “Tell Me Something Good” (a ’70s hit for Rufus and Chaka Khan) and Jaco’s anthemic “Teen Town” into one goodfoot throwdown powered by Erskine’s slamming, syncopated backbeat.

Erskine’s briskly swinging “Twelve,” highlighted by outstanding solos from Benita, Guillaume on tenor and Lê on warm-toned, reverb-soaked guitar, serves as a virtual clinic in the art of brushwork. The drummer’s suitelike “Plan 9” seamlessly mood-shifts from sly boogaloo to straightahead 4/4 swing to a pulsating Afro-Cuban groove, capped by some particularly explosive fretboard work from Lê and a brilliant extended drum solo from Erskine. Lê’s raging, prog-rockish “Kokopanista” features the kind of liquid whammy-bar statements and uncanny legato flow that recall Allan Holdsworth in full flight, while his tender ballad “Romanichel” is rendered with Zen-like restraint. Elsewhere, Guillaume supplies some playful soprano sax on Lê’s buoyant “Montreal” and also contributes one of the most stirring and memorable compositions on the collection in the mellow, mid-tempo swinger “Hanging Out on the Roofs,” which reflects the joint influence of Wayne Shorter in the writing and Joe Lovano in the tenor sax solo.

Originally Published